“Very stressed at the moment” is what Serum Institute of India’s CEO Adar Poonawalla had to say on Covishield manufacturing state currently. His statement came yesterday when he was being interviewed by NDTV. Mr. Poonawalla in the interview said, “Very stressed to put it quite frankly. The globe needs this vaccine and we are prioritizing the needs of India at the moment and we are still short”. He added that SII needs another Rs. 3,000 crores to ramp up the production of COVID-19 vaccine by June.
Amid the increasingly worrying news of fresh COVID-19 cases skyrocketing, Mr. Poonawalla gave an interview to New Delhi Television. In the interview, Mr. Poonawalla said that the vaccine manufacturing deadline of producing 100-110 million vaccine doses a month has been pushed from April-May to June-July. He cited the fire that struck Serum Institute of India’s filling line as the reason for the changed deadline.
He claimed that the process of ramping up vaccine manufacturing would take somewhere around 3 months and that he has approached the government to address the shortage of vaccine. He also said that if the government is not able to provide the financial aid the company needs, the company is willing to approach banks for loan.
When asked about the profitability and sustainability of the manufacturing company, Poonawalla said that the average price of Covishield is $20 in the world and because the nation’s needs are being prioritized by the company, Serum Institute of India is the only COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer in the world that has sacrificed profits.
“I hope this will always be remembered that there’s no vaccine industry on the planet that has agreed to provide their vaccines at such a subsidized price to their own government,” Mr. Poonawalla said. The Serum Institute CEO said that his company rose to the occasion when such an action was requested by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
When asked about the current state of production, Mr. Poonawalla said that the company is currently producing a minimum of 2 million doses per day. He also highlighted the fact that the company has delivered more than a 100 million doses to India and more than 60 million to exports.
Mr. Poonawalla was also asked about how the company has been prioritizing India as other countries too are in the need of the vaccine and curbing the spread of COVID-19 is a global effort. To this, the vaccine manufacturing mogul said that it has been difficult for the company to explain other countries that for a temporary period of.2 months, the company will be prioritizing the needs of India. “The severe burden of cases that we are seeing in India, demands that we service the needs of our nation first,” Mr. Poonawalla said.
Due to the multiple variants that are wreaking havoc across the world and causing confusion amid people, the SII CEO also said that the company is looking to “tinker” the vaccine to be more receptive of other variants of the COVID-19. This includes the UK-strains and the South-African strain of the virus. Moreover, Mr. Poonawalla also claimed that the manufacturing giant is also conducting trials on individuals that are under-18 years old.
“We are trying for both: efficacy against these mutant variants, and in a lower age-group,” Mr. Poonawalla said, adding that he will wait for 6 more months before it can be claimed that the vaccine is safe and effective for these two areas.
Mr. Poonawalla’s statements are coming at a time where there have been calls for making the COVID-19 vaccine available to people across all age-group. Currently, the Centre has only allowed people over the age of 45 to get vaccinated. However, as the cases rise exponentially, there have been requests made to the Centre to open vaccination to all.
On Tuesday, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan rejected the calls and said that the aim of the Centre is to not vaccine whoever wants, but whoever needs.